On July 19, 2018, Netflix released a preview for one of its many new and original series. Starring Debby Ryan (whom you might recall from Disney Channel), Insatiable shook the internet, and not in a good way. People quickly labeled the show as a fat-shaming catastrophe that is tone-deaf in 2018. Why? Why was this show so hated after a preview that only ran 1 minute and 52 seconds?
Let's start with said preview. Within the first 15 seconds of it, you already want to pull back as a viewer. The first image we get is of Debby Ryan in a really unrealistic fat suit, sighing at her reflection in a standing mirror. The character speaks over a montage of herself suffering at the hands of her peers. She's saying that high school was a nightmare over a clip of her approaching a locker that is spray-painted to say "FATTY PATTY." A male student remarks, "Fatty Patty's huuuge," as he stands about a foot and a half away from her. Then, Patty goes on to talk about how her classmates were out losing their virginities while she was "at home stuffing another hole," (we uncreatively pan to her eating ice cream on the couch).
Already, viewers have several reasons to say, "WTF?" First of all, the use of a fat suit in 2018 is mind-boggling to me. Yes, there are situations in which fat suits make sense (for example, Toby from This Is Us is in a fat suit every episode, but that is because many of the plots revolve around his and his wife's very real and serious struggles with food and confidence), but the reason behind a fat suit should always be made in good taste. What is NOT in good taste is having a Hollywood "it" girl/ Disney star who is very thin in real life wear a clunky fat suit and then look at her reflection with disgust. Why is that bad? The fat suit can come off of Debby Ryan, so she is acting disgusted by a reflection that she doesn't truly embody while young, chunky viewers cannot step out of their figures.
The image of Patty sitting on the couch eating ice cream is also incredibly tone deaf because it supports the overwhelming stereotype that any person who is not in peak, Hollywood shape got there by eating serving after serving of unhealthy food. In reality, I have met many people in life who eat exactly like Patty but look like those who bully her, and I have met people who are overweight but eat nothing but health foods. It isn't a quick equation, but this show further supports that it is.
The concept of the show is far worse. After these 15 seconds of suffering, we see Patty get punched in the face, which breaks her jaw and causes her to have her mouth wired shut, forcing her to go on a liquid diet for three months. In the next scene, she's fit, skinny, well-dressed, beautiful Debby Ryan! Thank god! The remainder of the season follows her classmates' reaction to her now being "hot" and her journey to becoming a pageant queen/slapping her peers, going crazy, setting people on fire and getting baptized in a red bikini. It largely revolves around how the form Debby Ryan naturally has is attractive and warrants confidene while restating that the fat suit form was lesser and dowdy. Additionally, it makes this kind of bizarre notion that, if a fat person lost weight, her first instinct might be to murder? those? who? wronged her?
The show, after it premiered, was also criticized for inappropriate jokes about pedophilia, women, the LGBTQIA+ community and even offensive racial comedy that largely played off of stereotypes (Check out Jen Chaney's review of it here).
So HOW could this show have become such a trainwreck? Let's look at its different facets. Firstly, we can look at its writing staff. It is four men and three women strong, but you can quickly find that none of them are plus-size people and that most of them are rather old, meaning that they haven't encountered the current kinds of bullying that young consumers would relate to or understand. Additionally, you'll notice that quite a number of them have most of their writing experience with Disney Channel series like Liv and Maddie or Hannah Montana. Obviously, you can be a great comedic writer and have written for kids television, but the offensive writing and unrealistic emotions of the main character feel like they might be the byproduct of not knowing what kinds of jokes land with an teen audience on an uncensored, streaming medium.
Secondly, we can look at the cast. There are no actual plus-size people within the main cast, so there was no one playing a fat character in a show that revolves around being bullied for fatness to say, "Hey, I don't know if that's accurate to my experience of being fat."
When a writing team of non-plus-size folks and a cast of people with typical celebrity bodies make a show about fatness that largely revolves around jokes about a body type that none of them have in 2018, the show will not land because it is going to repel the people with the voice that the show is trying to immitate. Insatiable fails because it makes brash assumptions about being plus-size in modern times and it uses outdated stereotypes as evidence.
As someone who has done stand-up comedy for years, written satire for years and has aspired to write comedy television since their early childhood, I can genuinely say that I did not find the concept of this show funny and I don't think that I would even if I did look like Debby Ryan. It felt dated, forced and messy, and very out of touch with how modern high school students and modern society generally function. It failed because it put an actress who has never been plus-size into a leading role where she had to give voice to a feeling she has never felt. While a lot of the creative minds behind the show justify it by saying that they were bullied in their youth or by saying that they too deal with insecurities, they have to come to terms with the fact that feeling fat and living fat are two different things, and thus the feelings and everything about life itself is different. It's not a copy-and-pasted stereotype of ice cream on the couch, it's real and it's not meant to be a joke for most people.
If you want to watch Insatiable, you should. If the plot excites you, dig in. Though I critique this show heavily, I understand that taste in television is as subjective to a person as taste in music or taste in food, and there is no singular kind of show that works for all of us or doesn't work at all.
For me, I cannot reason with this show because it does everything that I am writing to argue against. Big women, be that strength, height or weight, are not weak or undesirable. They are not monsters. They do not need to overcome their forms in order to seek happiness, confidence or revenge. Their form should not be seen as a low from which to begin building a narrative. Plus-size actresses should be cast in narratives about plus-size women. Bigger characters should be allowed to be protagonists and not "losers" or "victims" of the world around them. Ultimately, comedies that revolve heavily around fat-shaming for laughs should not exist in 2018 if our ultimate goal as a society is to create an environment where people can love their bodies and the bodies of others.
Thank you for exploring Insatiable with me. I look forward to tomorrow, where I'll talk about Sailor Moon via heavy explanations from my sister who has far more experience with the content than myself (I'm just beginning).
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